Ever since The Shield debuted in 2002, FX has become synonymous with quality male-oriented programming. And so many devotees of the network — loyal fans of such shows as Louie, Justified, and Damages — were concerned, unnerved, and even outraged by yesterday’s announcement that this summer their trusted network would be airing Charlie Sheen’s return to TV in the sitcom Anger Management, based on the 2003 Jack Nicholson–Adam Sandler film of the same name. From a capitalist perspective, it is unfair to tut-tut. It’s a good business decision: Sheen’s return to TV will undoubtedly have at least an initial huge tune-in. FX is a company; they can’t be faulted for going after such a big potential audience. It’s naïve to expect that TV networks will behave morally, as if they’re people, and to leave a sweetheart deal with Sheen on the table because his behavior has been erratic at best, illegal and brutal at worst. And yet, FX can only blame itself for its disappointed fans. Over the past nine years, they’ve worked hard and spent millions getting us to think of them as a specific kind of personality (or, if you want to use the term of art, a brand): rough but with integrity, brash but savvy. And when dumb, smart dumb. So FX can cash in if they want, but they shouldn’t expect us to like it.
Picking up Anger Management was a business decision, but FX doesn’t want us just to think about it as a business. It wants us to trust its taste, to feel an allegiance. If AMC can be deemed to be in crisis because it aired one show that wasn’t up to its lofty standards (The Killing) and had some backstage goings-on with its showrunners, FX deserves at least a bit of cold shoulder from its dedicated watchers for pimping itself out. Turnabout is fair play.